Wearable Technology in Sport – Part 1

As part of the Design and Technology course at the GSA, we have each selected a particular topic of interest to research and present on at the end of the semester. I have chosen a topic that relates directly to my internship that I am juggling with university work this term, which is wearable technology in sport. Over the last few years wearable technology has moved forward in leaps and bounds, and its integration into commonplace, daily use is inevitable. The market of wearable technology was expected to see threefold growth between from $24bn in 2017 to $70bn in 2025 (according to an IDTechEx report). Over the course of this research, I hope to explore how wearable technology is already being implemented within the sporting world and the consequences of this (positive and negative), and where it might lead to in the future. This collection of blog posts will be a brief documentation of my research in this topic.

I will start by outlining what wearable technology is and where we most commonly find it. Wearable tech is unsurprisingly the addition of technology into wearable items such as watches, clothing and accessories. The technology aspect usually utilises the sharing of data gathered by some form of sensor on the device and another via the internet. The increased use of the ‘Internet of Things’ has to helped facilitate wearable tech. Outside of sport, wearables can be found in most industries, such as personal communication, security, medicine and computing, just to name a few. Wearable technology has allowed a more personal approach to how we can interact with devices and data. 

Despite wearables being available in many forms, the Apple Watch dominates the wearable tech market, and the smart watch rivalry between Apple and other manufacturers such as Google and Samsung has almost as much beef as the smartphone rivalries between these companies. As well as telling the time, the Apple Watch relays messages directly to your wrist, tracks your fitness, monitors your heart rate and even allows you to make purchases online. The Apple Watch makes the most of relatively simple sensors and technologies, but when combined with the slick, polished package that you expect to see with Apple products, it is incredibly popular. Smart watches currently are the most prominent example of popular wearable tech and there are now a huge range of smart ‘fitness’ watches such as the Fitbit, which are indecently the most popular example of wearable tech in sport.

The wearable industry has been involved in sport for longer than one might appreciate, with the first GoPro being launched in 2004. The GoPro is the world’s most popular action camera. Designed initially for adventure and extreme sports, the GoPro can be worn with a variety of different attachments on various parts of the body, giving the footage unique perspectives. The success of the GoPro was mainly accredited to the camera’s ruggedness. There is a famous bit of footage where a camera falls out of a plane and lands, still fully functioning, in a pig pen, to be discovered by the farmer months later. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2WSb34yCtsQ)

It is commonplace now for professional athletes to train with a GPS unit on them, so that their performance can be constantly monitored by their coaching staff. An athletes’ performance review via a device like this can be instrumental in whether they are picked or not, and hence could have an enormous impact on their career. There is a massive emphasis on athlete welfare throughout the use of these devices and that is where I believe the future of wearable technology in sport is headed. Injury prevention is one of the forefront concerns of any athlete, so this is an area of huge potential with the increased implementation of wearable technology.

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